Water control isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you travel along Britain’s most beautiful shortcut – the Crinan Canal – but it’s incredibly important. Behind the scenes are a passionate and dedicated team who battle the ever-changeable elements of Scotland’s West Coast to keep the canal’s water levels where they need to be, 365 days a year. Customer Operations Manager, Donna Mallan, explores a day in the life of our Water Control team.
I’ve been employed on the Crinan Canal for just over a year as Customer Operations Manager and I was keen to find out more about other roles in the company. To that end, I recently donned my waterproofs and braved the wild Argyll elements to spend a day as a water controller, taking measurements and conducting checks of the reservoirs in the forests around the Crinan Canal with Team Leader and Water Controller Raymond Aitken before heading onto the waterway itself.
At only nine miles in length, the Crinan Canal may well be Britain’s most beautiful shortcut but a huge amount of work goes on behind the scenes and around the clock to make sure that its water levels are controlled. With the water for the canal supplied by nine reservoirs high above in the Argyll forest, great care has to be taken (particularly in periods of wet weather) to make sure that water levels stay at a safe and stable level in the canal.
To do this, Scottish Canals employs four dedicated water controllers: Alex Selfridge, Raymond Aitken, Jenny Griffin and Andrew Weston. They work around the clock in all weather conditions, across the year, and even through the night, supported by the duty officer and our on-call team. Together, they carefully control levels and water flows to make sure that the canal doesn’t overflow during bad weather or run out of water.
It’s a complicated task to balance water control and conservation and takes a lot of skill. The team manage water levels with a new telemetry system that’s been put in place, and they take water level readings from gauges along the canal throughout the day and night. It’s a big responsibility to keep levels stable during a down-pour of bad weather, whilst ensuring that levels are high enough for deep drafted boats to transit through the canal.
I have nothing but the upmost respect for our dedicated team at Crinan. There is so much to learn from experiencing different roles and working with different personalities. I’m generally office based and found the experience of the water control physically and mentally challenging, especially when the wind and rain is battering your body and face and you are trying to lift heavy water waster boards or crank open lock gate sluices. Experiencing a day in the life of the team has not only increased my knowledge and awareness of the work of the team but also given me an even greater respect for the skilled job they undertake.
So, the next time you explore the Crinan Canal, spare a thought for our unseen heroes who work tirelessly on Britain’s most beautiful shortcut.
By Donna Mallan, Customer Operations Manager, Crinan Canal.